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The 47 Ronin:
Only To Be Read With Honor... And Caffeine

Did anyone actually go to see the Keanu Reeves version of The 47 Ronin? Based on the trailer, it seems like a story full of sorcery, demons, ghosts, cool tattoos and buried somewhere in there, the way of the samurai. So yes, purists were outraged, as the story of the 47 Ronin is a revered tale in Japan, sometimes referred to as "the national legend."

Timed to hit stores alongside the movie and tell the more accurate story, Shambhala Press' graphic novel The 47 Ronin may very well be truer to Bushido, the samurai code. But being reduced to the simplistic art style of manga by Akiko Shimojima and the sparse text by Sean Michael Wilson, there's something to be said for outrage.

The problem really isn't in the narrative itself; it's that the book seems very much aimed at readers who already know and love the story. Wilson assumes much is understood about the culture, and explains nothing other than that ronin are masterless samurai -- the only thing likely understood by the average reader.

In a nutshell, 47 ronin vow to avenge the death of their master. The plot takes over two years to complete, and then honor demanded that they themselves commit ritual suicide. But it's the teller that makes each version unique, which is why Reeves' version can be so full of the supernatural.

Shambhala touts this as the first historically accurate graphic-novel version, and that could very well be. But that also makes it just a little bland.

Though Shimojima has a sure hand with layout in the manga style, the details of Japanese culture, right down to hair styles, both make it hard to tell exactly who is who and why the details even matter. A visual glossary would help, but it's not here.

The narrative hints that something more is going on at times, but never strays from the straightforward. Competently put together, it just never feels enticing. And from what I've understood of chushingura, the concept of retelling and putting your own spin on the tale, the embellishments have indeed been one of the things that make the story last.

Stripped to its core, it remains an important story, just not that interesting to the non-believers.


Derek McCaw



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